If you plan on driving in Iowa, you must have a driver's license. To obtain an Iowa driver’s license, you must satisfactorily complete an Iowa driver's test.
If you do not choose to obtain an Iowa driver's license but would like to drive, you will need to get an International Driver's Permit in your home country. The International Driver's Permit allows you to drive in Iowa as long as you are a student and do not have intentions of becoming a permanent resident. You must also carry your home country driver's license.
International Driver's License (IDL)
An international driver's license is an English translation of your foreign driver's license. You will need to apply for the international driver's license in your home country. You will not be able to apply for the IDL in the U.S.
Benefits of an IDL
- You are able to drive in the U.S. immediately with your IDL. After one year, you must have a valid Iowa driver's license to legally drive in the U.S.
- You are able to apply for an Iowa driver's license immediately after arriving in the U.S. if you have an IDL. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a learner's permit* before you are eligible to apply for an Iowa driver's license.
*A learner's permit requires that you have an adult (21 years or older) with a valid driver's license for up to 9 months. You will also be required to practice driving for 50 total hours (at least 10 hours nighttime driving).
How to Apply for an Iowa Driver's License
With an International Driver's License
You may apply for an Iowa driver's license anytime after you arrive. You are able to drive on your international driver's license for up to 1 year from your arrival in the U.S. After that, you will need to have an Iowa driver's license. We recommend that you apply no later than 7 months after you have arrived in the U.S.
In order to apply for an Iowa driver's license you must:
- Pass the DOT's written, vision, and drive test. You may study for the written test using the DOT's driver's manual located on the Iowa DOT's website.
- Present the necessary documentation
- Proof of identity and non-immigrant status: passport, visa stamp, I-94 card
- Proof of address in Des Moines: bank statement with mailing address, pay stub, bill sent to your address in Des Moines
- Proof of Social Security Number: Social Security Card*
*You are only eligible for a Social Security Card if you are employed in the U.S. If you do not have a Social Security Card and are ineligible to receive the card because you are unemployed, you need to show proof of ineligibility. The Social Security Administration is in charge of issuing SSN's as well as issuing letters of ineligibility. In order to receive a letter of ineligibility, you must apply for a SSN.
If you have passed all the required tests and submitted all required documents. Your photo will be taken and you should receive your new Iowa driver's license in the mail within 2 weeks.
Without an International Driver's License
If you do not have an international driver's license or an English translation of your foreign driver's license, you must first apply for an Iowa learners permit before you are eligible for an Iowa driver's license.
Learner's Permit Requirements
- You must be at least 16 years old (and 180 days) to be eligible for an Iowa learner's permit
- If you are between the ages of 16 and 18, you must have a passenger 21 years or older with a valid driver's license in the car with you when you are driving. If you are over the age of 18, you must have a passenger with a valid driver's license only, in the car with you at all times.
- You must complete 50 hours of supervised driving (at least 10 nighttime hours) to be eligible to apply for an Iowa driver's license. The 50 hours must be witnessed by a passenger who is at least 25 years old (or a spouse who is at least 21 years old).
- You must record your 50 driving hours in a 'Log of Supervised Driving', which you need to present to the DOT when you apply for the driver's license.
- Once you have completed the 50 hours of supervised driving. Follow the steps above on how to apply for an Iowa driver's license.
Des Moines Public Transportation—DART
International students may wish to take advantage of the Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority (DART) which provides bus service to and from Grand View University along two of its major routes, as well as para-transit for those with qualifying special needs. Stop by the Campus Services and get your free DART sticker for your ID card. Simply show your Campus ID when you board DART.